Age-friendly Belfast – Older and Wiser
A learning exchange with age-friendly colleagues in Northern Ireland inspired Adam Rees from Bristol in his own age-friendly practice.
A member of the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities steering group, Adam recounts his highlights and learnings from his two days in Belfast.
The opportunity to visit Belfast for a steering group meeting, as part of the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities was always going to be exciting, especially as it was being held in a city that has historically seen so much tension between its citizens. Even today, while other parts of the UK think they are overloaded with Brexit talk, there is a very physical and practical element that makes the current negotiations even more critical in Northern Ireland. In addition to the work of the UK Network, these were just some of the areas of interest I had when I arrived in Belfast for the recent meeting.
The steering group isn’t designed to make decisions but we do support the Network Manager and provide guidance and vision within the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities, which has just reached 27 members with the addition of Newry, Mourne and Down District confirmed during our visit.
I have been a member of the steering group since the Centre for Ageing Better began supporting this network in 2017 and enjoy the opportunity to help develop a resource that brings a diverse collection of communities together.
I have been a member of the steering group since the Centre for Ageing Better began supporting this network in 2017 and enjoy the opportunity to help develop a resource that brings a diverse collection of communities together. Personally I have appreciated the support of the Network in developing and enhancing Bristol’s application to join the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities. Since Bristol is one of the ‘newer’ cities in the network, I also enjoy helping the network understand what would be useful for other communities in our position.
Our visit coincided with Belfast's Positive Ageing Month which celebrates the contribution that older people make to their communities and to the city. Throughout the month activities have ranged from dancing and singing to arts activities and the age-friendly convention which introduced the new action plan. There was fantastic take up of these activities and we made a fleeting visit to an afternoon film screening which had over 120 people enjoying movies and ice cream!
We heard from colleagues in the Department of Communities, Public Health Northern Ireland and Age Northern Ireland... The collaboration I saw was inspirational and I can see how this learning could be applied in Bristol as we review our governance.
The steering group meets a few times a year and usually it is a full day of work. As we were only there for a short time, we wanted to make the most of our trip to the city. We were lucky to have a second day there and an opportunity to learn more about age-friendly activities across Northern Ireland and to meet some of Belfast's older people who have contributed so much to make it a success. We heard from colleagues in the Department for Communities, Public Health Agency and Age Northern Ireland about their work around an active ageing strategy for Northern Ireland and the creation of a Northern Ireland age-friendly network. The collaboration I saw was inspirational and I can see how this learning could be applied in Bristol as we review our governance.
The impact of Belfast’s action plan was evident during our meeting with the members of the fantastic Greater Belfast’s Seniors Forum (G6). The forum is made up of the chairs of the six regional forums across Greater Belfast, which meets monthly to coordinate opportunities and to provide input in to age-friendly work and shaping age-friendly services. We are in the process of establishing action groups in Bristol to help deliver our own action plan and I am keen to apply learning from the G6 when we do this. While we might have different groups working on different issues, some kind of central meeting for the older people involved would be massively useful for everyone, and our trip to Belfast gave us lots of ideas about how Bristol can learn from groups like G6 to develop our own age-friendly practices.
As visitors to this city, we wanted to be respectful to people we met and were worried about upsetting anyone if we asked questions about the Troubles. However, as we talked more with the members of the G6, the question did arise about how they worked together and how they put aside differences to do this. The answers were truly inspirational with the members talking of how they were all people living and sharing one city. One woman noted that as she was in her late 70s, she had grown up in mixed communities before the Troubles began in the late 1960s. Now, as an older person she can again mix with those communities and visit areas she may not have done for decades. She noted that they were all older and wiser now and that everyone had something to learn from what had happened.
I really enjoyed my trip to Northern Ireland and to Belfast. Not only did I benefit from being around colleagues within the network working towards the same goals, but I also learned a lot from our hosts...
I really enjoyed my trip to Northern Ireland and to Belfast. Not only did I benefit from being around colleagues within the network working towards the same goals, but I also learned a lot from our hosts – about what an age-friendly action plan and strategy looks like, how we can measure success and how we can monitor our own progress. For a city at the beginning of our age-friendly journey, it was great to see what can be done with partnership and determination and I came back to Bristol ready to make some last-minute amendments to our documents ahead of submission to the WHO!